Business Bits: Bye Bye Barca

barcaMLS and FC Barcelona announced today that the storied Spanish Club is withdrawing its bid to enter the League in 2010.  Citing the economy and market conditions, the parties mutually agreed to walk away from the proposed Miami franchise.  We have previously posted about the viability of the South Florida market. With Barcelona out of the way, things are definitely looking up for Vancouver, St. Louis and Portland. According to this post at the 24th minute, Vancouver and Portland have wrapped up the slots for the next round of expansion.

In other news, tickets for the June World Cup Qualifier against Honduras have gone on sale.   The game is scheduled for Soldier Field, and interestingly, will be shown on ESPN Classic and Galavision.  ESPN seems to be playing games here.  There is no good reason this game isn’t on ESPN or ESPN2, other than using Classic as a pseudo pay per view.  Based on the ratings from the last qualifier, the Sports Leader is counting on a big increase in subscribers for Classic because of the game.

Finally, according to a story in the Daily Free Press, the Revs seem to be weathering the economic slowdown quite well.  The paper interviewed Liz Summers, the Revs’ director of communication:

“[Soccer] have not been affected as you may have seen others,” she said. “It’s an entirely different season ticket pack, discounted regardless of the economy. We’re a different entity because our value point, our price point, is at a much different level.”

Individual ticket prices range from about 15 to 20 dollars Summers said, and the Revolution also offers free parking, which helps keep them “a little bit of a different entity.”

“Season ticket sales are on par, if not ahead,” she said. “In ticket sales we’re doing very well. Soccer is still growing. There’s a line of cities trying to get into the door to get teams.”

Summers also said the Revolution has long-term deals for advertising and are increasing their advertising to online, adjusting to where the marketing deals are. That specific move has nothing to do with the economic issues, she said.revs

Marketing to Adults: The Revs’ New Direction

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From the outset, MLS has faced something of an identity crisis.  Who was the target audience?  Men? Women? Familes? Hispanics? soccer fans? sports fans?  Both the League and various teams have targeted different groups with varying levels of success.  Like all marketing, imitation is king, and right now, “hardcore” fan is sitting on the throne.

Envious of the fans in Toronto, DC and more recently, the Nordecke in Columbus, teams have been searching for ways to bring spirited supporters to their events in larger numbers.  Typically young and usually male, teams are counting on these fans to bring atmosphere and passion to their stadiums.  While most teams have long had dedicated supporters’ sections with small bands of dedicated souls (like The Fort in New England or Section 8 in Chicago), there has been a definite shift towards increasing attendance among the younger, louder demographic.

Nowhere is this more clear than in New England, long considered a stronghold of the “soccer mom” set.  Becuase of Gillette Stadium’s size and the Revs’ apparent focus on selling to club teams, familes and “Beckhamites”,  the Revs have long suffered from poor atmosphere and ongoing clashes between the team and its hardcore supporters.  Two recent initiatives seem intended to  alter that reality.

The Revs’ new “Defend the Fort” initiative is offering $200 season tickets (for 20 games) in the supporters’ section behind the goal.  According to Revolution, COO Brian Biello, the campaign is intended “to create an authentic soccer atmosphere at Gillette Stadium.”  The intiative will also include social networking opportunities and events at bars around Boston.

The Revs also announced the organization of the inaugural “Revs Girls” squad, a new promotional group intended to make appearances on behalf of the team.  Notably, the interview requirements include a head shot, body shot and “form fitting clothing.”  I don’t think the target demographic is in question here.  There is no suggestion that the Revs Girls will be a cheer squad or dance team.  In a quote pulled by the Boston Herald, Mr. Biello stated that, “the girls will distribute posters and special offers to come to games.”  Apparently the Revs Girls will visit area pubs showing English Soccer as a way to entice soccer fans to give the Revs a try.

I’ll all for efforts to increase attendance, and as I have posted on many occassions, there is enormous soccer loving population in the U.S. that has not yet fallen for MLS. However,  I question whether passing out fliers to pub dwellers at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays will drive traffic to Foxboro (perhaps the Revs Girls should be visiting 20 something bars at night).  That said, I think the “Defend the Fort” initiative is a great idea.  As Columbus has shown with the Nordecke, the creation of a loud, large and passionate area of the stadium can alter the atmosphere throughout the complex.   The Revs are on the right track.

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